Sunday, October 4, 2009

Unshaken Friendship

Time tests all friendships.

Sitting around the kitchen table sharing a bowl of tortilla soup, corn bread and a glass or two of sangria was the picture of comfort food with comfortable conversation. Crisp with the feeling of fall outside, the warmth of old friends wrapped us in easy memories. It was an old, soft blanket we shared together. At times the blanket held sadness and heartbreak huddled silently in its folds, at other times a reassuring hug had been held beyond simple politeness, and was tangled in its tranquility. Many occasions of raucous laughter meant uncontrolled tears spilled to be absorbed by its memory-filled fabric. Friendship like this cannot be adequately described, it is cherished with eyes closed and hearts filled with its sounds and smells, warmth and easy rhythm.

Bill and Shirley (not their real names) have been a part of our lives for more than thirty years. No, it has not been continuous congenial contact, for on occasion there were years between some visits. But getting together was like bringing out that warm wrap and knowing that the sweet ‘hot chocolate’ aroma of mutual acceptance and caring would soon fill the room. Last night we went onto the back deck and howled at the full moon together, confirming to our neighbours that we were indeed a little crazy. We shared some hurts, some achievements, some concerns and some celebrations. But most of all we simply shared ourselves, and it left me with a satisfied “Ahhhhhhhh.”

When a life changing diagnosis, like Parkinson’s, befalls you in life, you get a number of responses from friends and family. There are those who simply ignore it, something like the denial I utilized when first diagnosed. “I don’t know how to deal with this and so I will just pretend it does not exist. Maybe it will go away.” Who has not felt the discomfort and inadequacy in responding to a “wounded” friend?

Some choose to safely intellectualize the subject. “Well, I knew a person with PD and they said… Aren’t there medications to deal with that?” This effectively dehumanizes the experience and simply segregates it as a topic of scientific conversation.

Of course the opposite of that is the emotional response. “”No! Not you! You don’t deserve such a devastating disease. How are you coping?” Well, I was feeling fine before you asked. Thanks!

But in my opinion the best response is an honest acknowledgement of the diagnosis and the affirming acceptance of the person with the problem. Those people care and are sincerely concerned, but we move on with a common commitment to making the very best of it. Despite feeling entirely unprepared, we have the years of growing friendship to sustain and encourage us.

For me the preferred reaction to my PD challenge is neither dramatic or dispassionate, disinterested or detailed. Seek understanding, yes, but remember that the most important ingredient in the mix is the person not the disease. Our closest friends know that.

One recurring theme: Difficult though it may be, in order for others to be comfortable with us, we must be comfortable with ourselves. We can avoid the drama and denial with caring friends.

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